The Moment The Race Was Won: Paris-Nice

Monday, 17 March 2014

Carlos Betancur surges past Rui Costa to win Stage 6 in Fayence. The margin of victory created time gaps and first place brought a ten second bonus too. If he’d won the previous stage too, that was via a late attack on the descent to Rive-de-Gier that was a clever but not dominant move. Instead it was on the Mur de Fayence that Betancur took the yellow jersey and demonstrated he was the best in the race. This was the moment the race was won.

But if it was the race winning move, Betancur’s victory was not secured on one day. This year’s Paris-Nice route meant no definitive selection point in the race, no chance to open up 30 seconds, a minute or more.

Plus there’s the matter of arithmetic. The table above shows the total time bonus haul during the race. Betancur took 10 seconds more than Rui Costa but beat him on GC by 14 seconds and the final podium reflects more than the arithmetic accumulation of artificial time.

From Nice to Monte Carlo
Was this year’s course better? Let’s beware of any certainty here. The end result was a function of many factors so we could send the race down the same course again and again and different events would have happened. Statisticians call this a Monte Carlo simulation, running the numbers again and again and seeing what the results are.

For example the weather was exceptionally good this year, replay the race with crosswinds an the opening stages and maybe one of the podium finishers would have got blown away. Alternatively consider the numerous nervous crashes, again these could have turned out differently. Or what of the mechanical for T-J Slagter or Wilco Kelderman’s unfortunate puncture, both on Stage 6’s Mur de Fayence?

But the concept of running the scenarios again and again to see what could have been is instructive because if they’d finished on Mont Ventoux or had a 30km time trial – or both – then the finishing order would have been almost the same each time. I suspect this year’s course might not satisfy all fans because it didn’t give a perfect hierarchy.

Paris-Nice vs. Tirreno-Adriatico
It is a little dysfunctional to have two week long early-season stage races in March, it is bizarre that they clash. But the only people who are forced to chose between the two events are team managers as they select their squad. The rest of us get to enjoy double the action at the touch of a remote or in a new window.

But rejig the calendar and even if these races were spread apart many riders would not do both. Even if you let the riders chose the course they’d probably still plump for one big stage race in the month. Returning to the present day the clash is a problem, two races competing for attention but it’s not that fans don’t know where to turn, it’s that many can’t watch in the first place. And if only it was as simple as flicking the TV remote, in reality both races struggled for live coverage beyond their home markets and as usual you need more channels than Venice to follow the sport.

It’s interesting to note how these races have changed. Tirreno-Adriatico often featured a spikey stage but it wasn’t that long away it was being won by sprinters like Oscar Freire or classics riders like Filippo Pozzato and Paolo Bettini while Paris-Nice went vertical with finishes in ski stations and half-way up Mont Ventoux. Now Paris-Nice has the flatter route.

Other lessons
A French team hadn’t won the race since 1991:

  • Ag2r La Mondiale rode very well. Bad luck saw Romain Bardet down but not out and Max Bouet abandoned with broken bones after an incident with a moto, Ramunas Navardauskas and Bardet. The brown short brigade had a great race and seemed united in a mission to win the race. Bardet describes Betancur as “a winner, a killer”, a sign that victory is a cultural acquisition for a team long used to scrambling for success
  • FDJ had a great race too with stage wins from Nacer Bouhanni and Vichot plus the yellow jersey
  • Europcar’s Cyril Gautier was sixth overall and tragically this matters to Europcar. By this I mean the have moved up to the World Tour are now condemned to chase points rather than dreams. So Gauthier collects points. With Thomas Voeckler still recovering from injury – and Pierre Rolland invisible in Italy – Bryan Coquard was left to pick up points. He was exceptionally quick in the sprint finishes, surging from 20th place to fifth in the final 250 metres. Fast but in the wrong place and he needs more support. Leadout man Jimmy Engoulvent is good but they need three more of him, second wagon in the sprint train was Bryan Nauleau, a neo-pro.

With each of these French teams it wasn’t long ago that they’d be firing riders up the road in the hope a break would stick but they’ve now got options for the hills and sprints and strategies to implement, leaving Cofidis and Bretagne-Séché to fulfil the traditional roles.

Lampre had a great race with Rui Costa all over the race. He’s collected six second places so far this year, if the rainbow jersey is cursed then the 2014 hex looks mild. José Serpa and Przemo Niemec were able in support and the whole team across all fronts looks far more coherent.

Team Sky had a mixed time. Geraint Thomas was very strong but had bad luck with a late crash. The rest of the team wasn’t so visible, when Thomas was in yellow he only had Lopez in support during the hilly parts. Lopez is worth two men but this year’s course was almost designed to disrupt Sky’s steamroller approach.

Here’s the list of prize money by teams. It’s no more but the prizes do reflect the way a squad got stuck in, for example Bretagne-Séché collects more than Tinkoff-Saxo (although of course the Danish team sent their A-Team to Italy).
From Nice to Sanremo
Now to look ahead. Statistically it’s rare that rider who completes Paris-Nice wins Milan-Sanremo but the causal factors behind this aren’t certain. So here are some thoughts on the riders getting ready for the classics:

  • At first it seemed John Degenkolb took time to get going. Beaten in the sprint two days running he won at Magny Cours. A fine win but almost expected. If anything watching defend the yellow jersey on Mont Brouilly was impressive, the sharp climb is far harder than the Cipressa so he’s a contender to make it to Sanremo
  • J-J Rojas had a good race, so regular you wonder why he didn’t win the points jersey. Rojas’ problem is consistency, he’s places more than he wins. Outsprinted in yesterday’s final stage by Arthur Vichot, the media asked the Frenchman how he beat a sprinter like Rojas: “Rojas, he often finishes second“. But such consistency translates into presence over 300km.
  • We don’t know if Zdeněk Štybar is riding Milan-Sanremo but the OPQS rider is proving Mr Versatile. Tipped for Paris-Roubaix he was looking strong on the uphill finishes.
  • It’s said RCS added Pompeiana in order to help secure an Italian win for Vincenzo Nibali. But even if the climb was there the Italian wouldn’t be in the mix. He’s a little short of form

Paris Nice podiumThe Verdict
A good week’s entertainment with variety and a fascinating course. It’s been a tiring week with a lot of kilometres to cover… and that was just writing the previews. If there was no big selection the repeated hilly finishes saw Carlos Betancur emerge ahead of Rui Costa and Arthur Vichot. Geraint Thomas and Tom-Jelte Slagter had bad luck but were the two willing to attack. Overall the strongest riders – and a new generation – came to the fore and the end result saw small differences that would only have grown if the race continued.

This week sees a series of small 1.1 races like the Nokere Course and the GP Nobili but everything is really about Milan-Sanremo and the start of the intense classics season and six weekends in a row of giant racing. Many of the names this week will appear again and Betancur, minus a couple of kilos, and Slagter are already names to watch for the Ardennes.

Erik Berendsen March 17, 2014 at 10:07 am

TJ Slagter lost 1.34 minute the day he lost his chain 200mtr before the finish, what if he didn’t lose this time that day…….maybe he even got some bonusseconds at the finish………what a shame for him and us Dutch cycling fans………

Vanilla_Thrilla March 17, 2014 at 10:34 am

Indeed. I think Garmin might suggest that the moment the race was lost was not when Betancur crossed the line but about 20 seconds earlier down the hill when Slagter suffered a mechanical.

But as they say, that’s bike racing…

The Inner Ring March 17, 2014 at 1:11 pm

His later stage win was a sign of what could have been. Exciting for the Flèche Wallonne and more, Dutch fans should have plenty to cheer about.

ShortsNL March 17, 2014 at 1:30 pm

I tend to agree about Slagter and call the collision between Kelderman and Slagter ahead of the Mur de Fayence the MTRWW.

But that also means I would be theorycrafting with ‘what if?’s and you can pretty much do that for everything (what if Thomas didn’t fall and abandon?), so it’s a hard call. All in all the Dutch can be happy with 3 stage wins and the KoM jersey.

Netserk March 17, 2014 at 10:08 am

“It is a little dysfunctional to have two week long early-season stage races in March, it is bizarre that they clash. ”

I disagree. I think competition is healthy and important. I don’t get UCI’s plans to change the calender. Imho the focus should be to get better coverage.

DrHeaton March 17, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Part of the problem at the moment is that coverage is divided and the attention of the media is split. You wouldn’t get two major events overlapping in many other sports.

Concentrating attention on one place at a time will help to provide a unified product which is easier to sell to TV viewers and you’d then get higher viewing figures to each individual race (benefiting the races and the teams) rather than having races fighting each other for attention.

The Inner Ring March 17, 2014 at 1:13 pm

I can see this side too and it forces races to make themselves attractive, both RCS and ASO are working hard. But if many of us will watch both, the coverage is neither equal nor accessible for the wider public.

I hope the UCI’s reforms don’t over simplify the sport. As touched on above, even if these races didn’t clash they’d still attract different fields, the calendar slot is not the only issue.

othersteve March 19, 2014 at 12:53 am

I think that you in Europe have a different perspective. We in the US will and do pay for per view events and I would pay per view most pro road race cycling events. ( but only a few exist! Cycling TV)

Boxing, Pro wrestling, MLB, NHL, NBA ) are popular and cost big money to see on pay preview. The cycling model need to incorporate a more robust pay for view model.

I don’t need to see a race streamed live at 3:00 AM in California, I will pay $10 to see it anytime after that in the next 48 hours! (Comcast, TimeWarner, Dish are you listening)

gabriele March 19, 2014 at 10:57 am

Yes, the system apparently works in a wholly different way.
As I suggested somewhere else, in Europe it’s the indirect gain from large exposure that brings in more money, and a reduction of the viewers, even if they were now paying, would ultimately reduce the effectiveness of the business model.
The basketball league in Italy tried out something like that (note that they don’t even have the “territory showcase” added value), and it was complete disaster, including long term effects in sporting quality.
Nevertheless, I agree that maybe this should be the right way to push cycling in the USA broadcasting market… but I’m not well-informed enough, really.

Jason March 17, 2014 at 10:21 am

The race was perfect for riders who wanted to get ready for the classics… while for GT riders not so.. I wonder if ASO will try this format again and lose all big names to TA.

I believe that Betancur will win at least one of the Ardennes classics.

Bundle March 17, 2014 at 10:43 am

It’s certainly been a very entertaining race (although a little on the cheap side, because one minute of yesterday’s carnage in T-A was worth more then the whole of P-N), and I think the formula can work in the future, but the stages need 30km on average, and there should be more climbing, more cols, not necessarily bigger, but more numerous. If the motto is “race out of control every day”, then go all the way for it. Good racing begins when leaders are left without teammates.
Thanks for all the previews, Mr. inrng.

gabriele March 17, 2014 at 1:07 pm

+ 1

I applaud ASO’s intentions, I just think they didn’t get what they hoped, and not just out of bad luck, that has been matched by some “good luck” as well (for example, Nibali’s lack of form produced a more offensive than ever – I’d say even *erratic* behaviour, which ultimately benefitted the show in some of the stages; and so on). If anything, they should reduce the number of riders per team, if they want to obtain showtime from a “white canvas” effect. On the other hand, if they just wanted to offer a training terrain for Classics’ riders (as Tirreno did some years ago), it worked out pretty well.

Spofferoonie March 17, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Paris-Nice took some time to get going but then the lack of a ‘proper’ summit finish and an ITT made for small time gains and interesting racing (not the least of which was working out why Betancur was often so far back).
BUT the last couple of days at Tirreno-Adriatico have blown it out of the water somewhat – summit finish followed on Saturday followed by a crazy climb on Sunday with Bertie winning both (but winning the race by cracking the Kwiatkowski earlier in the day) – supreme stage racing (unless he’s back on the Spanish beef).

The Inner Ring March 17, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Contador is being trained by Tinkoff-Saxo DS Steven de Jongh, the old days of working with Pepe Marti (US Postal/Discovery/Astana coach who is in the Armstrong/USADA case) ended a while back (http://inrng.com/2010/07/contadors-mystery-training-plans/)

gabriele March 17, 2014 at 1:20 pm

That would be supreme stage racing even including the carnivorous vice…

Many call for beef, whether the cow is Spanish, Italian or WASP, but few choose to ride like that.
Very few are even able to think or dream like that.

“Habíamos pensado de en la última subida hablar Kreuziger y yo sobre cuál sería la mejor táctica. Pero mi sueño era atacar en Lanciano e irme solo, aunque a veces es difícil y un gran riesgo. Por otra parte, decía ‘es lo mejor, una victoria diferente, una motivación mayor’. Hablé con Nairo al pie del Passo Lanciano. Poco después del inicio, no tenía equipo a su lado. Yo todavía tenía a Kreuziger. Pensé que la mejor estrategia era permanecer a la rueda de Nairo y luego atacar al final de la etapa, pero, en cambio, me las arreglé para abrir un hueco”.

LM March 17, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Supreme indeed. I love that these races overlap, giving the mildly obsessed more than enough early season information to analyze; Costa’s string of seconds, Sybar steady march to the cyclist he’s to become. But, the combination of Contador and Riis will be the topic of a book if not a legend in the future. A very special pairing of two great men.

gabriele March 18, 2014 at 9:59 am

Riis demonstrated indeed to be a great man at least once… When he commented, after his doping confession: “If they want back my yellow jersey, I keep it in a cardboard box, there in my garage”. Compare with Lance posting his selfie while contemplating the in-house museum of framed yellow jerseys… :-S

LM March 18, 2014 at 10:08 pm

I did not mean Great as in flawless myth, I doubt there’s such a person, I meant two men who have been at the very top in their professional careers in a very unique way, just like Stapleton and the development of the Cav sprint train, Holm and Lefevere, Brailsford, etc. Regardless of anyone’s opinion of anybody’s moral stature, the way these two work together in the business of cycling is unique.

I have plenty of opinions too, but let’s leave the whole morals/ethics in sport thing aside for the moment.

gabriele March 18, 2014 at 11:47 pm

LM, I agree with you.
Neither I was ironic underlining an episode in which I really appreciated Riis’ attitude.
My reply was mainly due to the strange effect of the expression “great men”… It makes me think to some sort of *personal* judgement, of a kind we may not have the means to assess properly (unless you have a tighter relationship than me with Bjarne & Alberto).
“Great (sports)men” would have been less ambiguous, IMHO (I actually believe that some part of the man, or woman, *shines through* to be seen in the sporting character, but this is just one “opinion” more…).

Qwerty March 17, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Good racing and thanks for the pre-race previews.
I saw the Bouet crash ref but what happened?

The Inner Ring March 17, 2014 at 1:16 pm

Bardet had punctured and was being paced back to the bunch by Bouet. As the clip shows there’s the slowing TV motorbike, Ramunas Navardauskas has to nudge Bardet out of the way to avoid the motorbike but this creates a wave with Bardet’s wheel overlapping Bouet who goes down and leaves the race with a broken collarbone. Some people got angry with Navardauskas but his move looks unavoidable, he’s just trying to get some space by the motorbike; any harm seems unintentional.

Anonymous March 17, 2014 at 5:48 pm

Spotted a typo after the sentence “Was this year’s course better?”. You wrote “Let’s beware of any certainty here” instead of “No. F no”.

Anonymous March 17, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Meh

The Inner Ring March 18, 2014 at 9:05 am

I’d disagree – I think it was an interesting course. I liked last year’s race but it’s easy to imagine teams controlling the race. Indeed last year when the race went up the giant Montagne de Lure I can remember comments on Twitter saying nothing was happening as Sky rode tempo uphill to block attacks, the big showdown only happened near the top once Porte lost his team mates.

I suspect next year’s edition will include a few uphill finishes but we’ll see the Col d’Eze time trial return.

hiddenwheel March 17, 2014 at 10:02 pm

Anyone know what Contador seems to have under his jersey in the pic? Looks like he’s hiding a coffee table book, perhaps images of the 2007 TdF.

Vanilla_Thrilla March 17, 2014 at 11:14 pm

Steak

gabriele March 18, 2014 at 10:01 am

Beetroot. Beetroot is the new steak, don’t be let behind. At least in the Tour, beetroot beated steak with a wide margin.

LM March 18, 2014 at 10:16 pm

I think it’s a vest for core cooling, but it’s also an aero advantage.

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